Production Talk - 'Dreaming Kester' by Martin Hong

The entire production of “Dreaming Kester” was actually done during my JC 2 year, as I did it for my art coursework project. And because there was still like freakin school happening, it was definitely one of the biggest challenges trying to strike a balance between both worlds. Cos since school’s pretty occupied all weekdays, I had to plan for the shoots on weekday nights, then only afford to film on weekends and holidays. On top of that, I was in an exco for my CCA, so I was practically stretching myself in every way possible. Thank God for sending in guardian angels like my art teacher and my very own parents, who really supported my project in areas such as helping me (or forcing me haha) to manage my time well and encouraging me every step of the way. And so here I stand today, unscathed by the cinematic ordeal, with “Dreaming Kester”, ironically a nightmare to film, materialised and completed. Ta da.


This is actually my second “proper” short film that I’ve really done, so I’m still pretty new to the whole directing thing. I guess I work in the most convenient way possible, given the current circumstances. The school was nice enough to extend an extra $100 to fund our projects, but still considering we had basically no proper filming equipment whatsoever, most of the $100 went to costumes and props. Thank God again for dispatching yet another host of guardian angels, like my secondary school art teacher, who helped me both in the provision of lighting equipment (cos the school ain’t got any) and my bestest school mates, who agreed wholeheartedly to be my actors. Thus, with a spirit of attempted resourcefulness and complete desperation, I managed to get everything I needed.

Jeremy (J) : You are very young. And somehow the synopsis of your film reflects a side of you that is coming to terms with adulthood. Could share more on your thoughts behind this story?
Martin (M) : The story is definitely auto-biographical to an extent, because I was struggling with the very issue of growing up and I knew the importance of “documenting” all these feelings and attitudes I possessed at that period of my life. I knew that even if I had been naive and immature towards crafting the story, it was still reflective in a certain mindset at that time. That’s why I knew that I HAD to film it when I was still young, cos after I sink into adulthood my take on the whole story would definitely have been very different. I guess my take on the whole concept now is actually slightly altered from when I did it (haha I have changed into an Adultist already), but nonetheless it definitely embodied the struggles I faced during the time and it has made me more aware of the changes I was going through and stuff.

J : What inspired you?
M : The whole idea actually arose the day I turned 18, and then it finally hit me, like “wow, I’m like considered an adult now” and then all these social obligations and expectations of how I should carry myself starting pouring in. I didn’t expect myself to have grown up so fast, so I was a little disorientated at the whole me coming to terms with adulthood thing. And in JC they somewhat already expect a certain level of efficiency from you (cos you’re considered an adult), and actually the more I was pressured to act like an adult, the more I refused to mould myself into such a category. At the time I was just very against the idea of me becoming like all the other adults around me, I just didn’t see the whole point of taking things so seriously and rigidly. So hence, I slowly retreated back into my younger days (haha) when I was free from all these notions of “growing up” and whatever, and I decided to explore what I really felt was more important, which was to retain the same amount of spontaneity and creativity a child took towards life.

J : What does the narrator say actually? I am very intrigued.
M : He actually narrates not only the present situation (that Kester is in) but He is also the driving force that propels certain events in the story. Thus, he is like this omnipotent god-like voice from the sky that commands and dictates what Kester is meant to do or be, and adds to the inner conflict Kester faces.

J : Why is it in the form of a narrator? Is adulthood necessarily cold?
M : The narration was actually to emphasis the rigidity of adulthood and how all-powerful its presence was, as it plays such a central role in the sequence of events. As such, even Kester, the main character in the story, is also unable to escape the stuff He narrates. I also wanted this “adult conscience” in Kester’s head to be literally audible and like intrusive, hence, putting it in the form of a narration also helped in like giving the audience a more heightened impact of the inner struggle in Kester’s head. Nothing is absolute, including my impression of adulthood. I knew logically that like adulthood probably wasn’t as cold and exaggerated as I portrayed them to be. But having observed the majority of the adults around me, I felt that it was undeniable that there’s an underlying trend among them, like this lack of a soul or spirit that had been long eroded over the years of behaving like adults for too long. This trait also strongly opposed that of what I treasured: child-like expressiveness. So I exploited this trait and portrayed the idea of adulthood similar to that of a cult’-like organisation, in which its members were all emotionless beings tied together by senseless faith. I guess logically its kinda off, but that was the impression most adults gave me. Very cold and very scary.

J : I am curious to know how your parents helped in the production. It's always heartening to see parents helping out. It gets harder as you grow older!
M : HAHA yea they definitely supported me through out the entire thing. My dad actually acted as one of the Adultists in the film and also voiced as the main narration. He also managed to convince his other friends to come help out as the other Adultists as well. Then they wear the costume all look damn funny.

On top of that he was also really really helpful in the production itself, like fetching me to several locations with the car boot stuffed with props and lightings, and helped like throw toys into a pool repeatedly in one scene. Haha great fun. My mum not only acted as Kester’s mum, but also kept encouraging and supporting me too, comforting me when I was too stressed out during the plannings. I’m definitely extremely blessed to have such supportive parents; they definitely played such an important role in the development of the whole film. (Just for the record, my parents are few of the adults I know that do not possess traits of average Adultists haha.)

J : What were your biggest challenges in making this film?
M : The biggest has to be planning and filming the whole thing admidst JC2 life running in the backdrop. And of course the onslaught of the imminent A levels. Since weekdays were snapped up with school and homework, I could only plan and get all the logistics for the filming done after I returned from school, then film only on weekends. It required extremely detailed organisation and scheduling of my time, which I naturally am inclined to fail in, but my art teacher really helped me to learn to do so. Like she sat down with me and planned several months of activity and how to balance both worlds.

Another issue was how I wanted to approach the filming, like very technical and well-planned, or keeping in sync with the film’s idea of non-rigidity and film very loosely without storyboards or such. The second process was pretty risky because if the filming of that scene didn’t turn out well, I couldn’t have time to reshoot again. Schedule was incredibly tight. So in the end I risked it all to experiment with both types, and thank God it came together surprisingly cohesive and I was really pleased with it.

J : Do you intend to make more and what are some of the ideas you have in mind?
M : I really hope I have the chance to shoot more films. I have a few concepts I’ve developed in the last few months, and I hope that I can get a camera soon so I can start shooting stuff. I guess it’s always the starting that takes the most effort. Very loose ideas actually, but the most concrete one has to do with attraction between 2 people and how connections forged between people are strangely fragile yet impactful to both parties. Stuff such both sides not knowing what the other is thinking, fleeting emotions, echoing states of confusion .....blah blah....quite mushy and sentimental lah. But I’m approaching it at a more conceptual level, which is not usually what I do, so it’ll be exciting to see how that plays out.

J : What are the top 5 movies you wish you'd made? (This is just a fun question, please feel free to not take it TOO seriously or intensely. And note: it's top 5 movies you WISH YOU MADE, not top 5 fave movies!)
M : HMMMMMM.....very hard to draw a line between the 2... ok I haven’t watched much films but this is it.
1) “The Fifth Element”---I just loved the whole treatment of the futuristic world; the costumes, vehicle, architectural designs, the choreography of the fights and their how everything came together so stylised but cohesive. Definitely would have been a blast to create such a rich, colourful world.
2) “Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind”---I think one of the few movies I know that do shaky camera work justice. Haha. Loved the visuals of them transitioning through the different worlds in his memories. Loved the whole concept. Wish I had came up with them first. Damn it.
3) “Be kind rewind”---practically what my friends and I do all the time. Filming low budget spontaneous stuff, just that he made it into a feature film first. Since I’m here let me do some blatant self-promotion. http://www.youtube.com/user/TheArtPeople
4) “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”---I always wanted to do a film on looking at the world differently. The cinematography was definitely a key role in achieving that. Wish I had the knowledge and means of filming that.
5) “Dragon Ball Evolution”---Gawd I would have loved to have spoofed it. Freakin funny movie.

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